As we’ve already discussed in this series, differentiation in the classroom allows teachers to give pupils of all capabilities, in all conditions, the best chance of learning. Previously we approached the seven main learning profiles in the classroom, the three principal learning conditions that teachers should be familiar with. Now, we’re looking at the seven methods of differentiation teachers can use to accommodate their pupils. By using these methods, it becomes possible for teachers to cater for a wide range of abilities in the classroom.
Flexible pace learning
Traditionally, tasks are completed in a set amount of time, which normally accommodates the slower-paced learners. This can mean faster learners are held up by the pace of their peers, and slower workers feel rushed and incapable of learning at the necessary pace.
Using a flexible approach to time-based tasks, however, faster students are given the facility to complete extension tasks, and it gives other pupils an opportunity to complete their exercise at a more comfortable speed.
Facilitating group work is excellent for empowering shyer students to participate more in class. Forming mixed-ability groups of pupils gives high achievers a platform to vocalise their ideas, and lower ability students a way of collaborating with and learning from their peers.
Allocating roles to each member of the group can also help pupils organise themselves according to their different skills and capabilities. This gives less able students a way to add value and generates more confidence.
It is possible for teachers to set separate work or exercises to different students based on their abilities. However, this approach can pose a few problems. Not only does it highlight student ability more publically with potentially negative social implications, it also requires considerably more administrative work for the teacher.
A progressive worksheet, however, that gets more complex as the student makes his or her way through is a more sensitive alternative. Allowing students with a slower pace of learning to work at their own speed, it also gives a vehicle for more academically able students to progress to the more challenging questions more quickly.
By using interactive tools and digital applications, mixed-ability classes get the opportunity to approach a topic or subject from different angles. In some cases, the use of digital resources can also highlight a skill or passion in students with less academic ability, while others might work more effectively with non-traditional resources and mediums.
This method of differentiation allows different materials, platforms and tools to be used to bring about the same learning outcome, and give pupils confidence in their digital skills.
Verbal dialogue is central to this method of differentiation. Teachers can identify different learning abilities and adapt their vocal explanations and support to different academic levels. Using targeted questioning can produce different responses in pupils of different learning profiles.
This technique relies on teacher-pupil interaction, and an ability in the educator to engage students in both simple and complex dialogue according to their learning needs.
Rather than setting a task with a single outcome or ‘right’ answer, taking a more interpretive approach to an exercise gives students the flexibility to arrive at a more personalised result. Students of different abilities will arrive at outcomes that match their level of understanding and learning.
If clear direction and a set of rules are formalised prior to setting the task, the risk of lower ability students falling too low can be avoided.
Regular assessment and feedback, allows teachers to adapt their teaching methods according to their various pupils’ needs and learning conditions. Assessment currently takes place both throughout the year and at the end, and is scope to entirely rethink the end of year reporting process. Through formative assessment like ClassFlow provides, teachers can be informed in the moment about levels of understanding, interpretation and learning. This flexible method allows for all learning profiles to be catered for at the time it is most valuable, rather than retrospectively.
Overall, modern teaching methods should be flexible enough to give the best vehicle to education for all learning profiles. By first identifying different students’ needs, understanding how to best engage them, and employing a mixture of these methods of differentiation, pupils of all abilities will have the best possible opportunity to learn.